Monday’s storm affected Santa Cruz residents in different ways, with aftershocks still being felt. Lookout checked in with various factions across the county to understand the impact and see how they were preparing for inclement weather forecast for next week — likely heaviest Monday and Tuesday.
In preparation for Monday’s storm, Santa Cruz city and county officials issued evacuation orders and let unhoused residents know of temporary shelters. Yet with the weather changes and limited lead time, many said they were poorly prepared despite the official efforts.
With rain continuing this week and forecast to be heaviest next Monday and Tuesday, government officials and advocates for the unhoused said they are redoubling their efforts to keep everyone safe.
Landslide on Alta Via Drive in Boulder Creek
Monday’s storm didn’t trigger any major landslides or debris flow issues in the county. The only reported landslide was at Alta Via Drive in Boulder Creek, and it didn’t affect traffic patterns or accessibility.
County spokesperson Jason Hoppin said the landslide didn’t keep residents from reaching their homes, but that the county was still waiting Wednesday for PG&E to remove wires downed in the slide.
Though rain was forecast for Wednesday evening, Hoppin said there was “nothing to do in preparation,” with county employees focusing on cleaning up debris from Monday and ensuring clean creek beds and culverts for the anticipated downpour this week and next.
Effects on unhoused residents
The heavy rains deeply impacted Santa Cruz’s unhoused residents, specifically throughout the benchlands area in San Lorenzo Park.
Larry Imwalle, the city’s homelessness response manager, said Santa Cruz began outreach at the encampment on Friday and Sunday, letting people know of the weather forecast and encouraging them to move to safer locations. Imwalle wasn’t sure of the exact number of people the city had spoken to in that outreach effort, but noted that “most people elected not to relocate until there was clearer risk.”
On Monday, the city’s public works department set up a temporary emergency shelter at the River Front Garage, equipped with supplies from the county that included 100 sleeping bags and pads, 48 pallets of water and 500 meals ready to eat. Imwalle said that approximately 50 people sheltered at the garage that night.
But Joy Schendledecker, a community volunteer with the Mutual Aid Working Group — also known as the Love Boat — said the communication efforts to the unhoused were inadequate. She said more city officials were needed to assist people in the benchlands to move to safer areas.
“I would have expected a rigorous emergency response and preparation … but knowing that people don’t want to move, especially when you’re not given great options ahead of time, you need a response in the moment,” she said.
For unhoused residents who moved to higher ground in the park, Schendledecker said some felt they were at risk of being ticketed or losing all of their belongings. Moving to the temporary shelter in the garage between River and Front streets wasn’t a viable option for many, and Schendledecker believes the limited available resources discouraged people from staying.
“I think it sounds like people were taking their chances where they were, and preparing to make a run for it if it came to it,” she said.
According to statistics from city spokesperson Elizabeth Smith, the San Lorenzo River peaked early Monday to around 15.5 feet — 1 foot below flood level. Imwalle noted the ramifications of a shifting weather pattern on the unhoused, and the city did “everything they could to let people know of the potential ahead of time.”
“Our first and foremost interest is the safety of life, and we prioritize our response based on that,” he said.
For storms forecast for Wednesday night and next week, Imwalle said the city will post notices Thursday in San Lorenzo Park of the closure of the lower-level areas of the benchlands to encourage people to move to higher ground. The city is accelerating the opening of a transitional community camp at 1220 River St. to next week. It will be able to house up to 35 residents.
“We’re trying to still identify whatever places we can to, first and foremost, make sure people are out of the areas at the highest risk, and in alternative locations throughout the city,” Imwalle said.
Some PG&E outages continue
On top of the potential issues with erosion control and debris flow, many county residents were also dealing with power outages. Beginning early Sunday morning, 27,840 customers of Pacific Gas & Electric countywide were affected by weather-related outages, with 77 outages reported in Santa Cruz, 28 outages in Felton and 26 outages in Boulder Creek.
PG&E spokesperson Mayra Tostado noted that high winds and heavy precipitation led to felled trees and limbs landing on PG&E equipment, knocking out power for hours. Further, in many parts of the Santa Cruz Mountains, saturated soil and fallen vegetation created safety issues for crews during their restoration attempts Monday.
“While crews were assessing the damage Monday afternoon, trees continued to fall around them,” she said. “We brought in tree crews to remove the trees to clear the road for ingress and egress for residents, and then we moved to other outage locations.”
On Wednesday morning, the aftereffects of the storm were still widespread, with Aptos residents reporting nearly seven hours without power overnight. Tostado noted that 88 Ben Lomond residents were still without power on Wednesday afternoon following Monday’s storm.
Tostado said that while crews had almost finished restoring power to Ben Lomond on Wednesday — the last group impacted by Monday’s storm — customers should stay vigilant given the weather forecast.
“The next winter storm will continue to move south and east through our service area tomorrow,” she said. “Heavy rain and gusty winds could again cause outage activity in Santa Cruz County.”